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"Both telling important stories": Barbenheimer

While Barbie and Oppenheimer are completely at odds tonally, they share a bleak, existential view of the world. But make sure you see them on different days...


Much has been made about the releases of Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer. What started as a meme poking fun at two wildly contrasting films releasing on the same day has spiralled into a cultural phenomenon being described as the movie event of the year. A classic case of counter programming has led to the films being bound together in an event which has been affectionately billed as ‘Barbenheimer’.

Barbie is a film adaptation of the popular toy franchise from Mattel starring Margot Robbie as the titular doll and Ryan Gosling as Ken. Oppenheimer focuses on J Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy), a brilliant theoretical physicist who will be forever remembered for the most devastating weapon ever devised by man.

Many filmgoers, including myself, took on the task of viewing the films as a double bill. But is this really the best way to experience this cinematic event?

When choosing to take on this mammoth five-hour trip to the cinema, the viewing order is crucial. Do you start off the day with a light and bright comedy about being human, before watching a three-hour exploration of the worst thing humans have created? Or do you take Barbie as a palette cleanser? I chose the latter. What I discovered is that the idea of ‘Barbenheimer’ is much more fun than the actual experience.

While the films are completely at odds tonally, they share a bleak, existential view of the world. Barbie shows the real world as a constant struggle for women, while Oppenheimer believes we're on the edge of destroying ourselves. Barbenheimer is a far cry from the wacky idea that social media portrays it as.

Oppenheimer is a gripping 180-minute onslaught about the moral complexities of creating a weapon as powerful as the atomic bomb. It sticks to you, leaving you to ponder the implications of what you've seen. But only 20 minutes after reading ‘Directed by Christopher Nolan’ on screen, I was watching Margot Robbie float off the roof of a bright pink Barbie’s Dreamhouse.

Barbie is a ridiculous fever dream of a studio comedy. Being thrown into that world immediately caused a bout of whiplash as big as a mushroom cloud. The angst of knowing the evil and horror that man is capable of is not a feeling you want when watching Ryan Gosling perform a power ballad about the struggles of being a Ken doll. A rewatch of Barbie may be needed to fully appreciate it in the right frame of mind.

Oppenheimer and Barbie are both telling important stories that deserve to be heard. But make sure you see them on different days to experience them for what they are, outside of the ‘Barbenheimer’ bubble.

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